Do Cats Need Protection from Ticks?

By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM on Jan. 21, 2016

Ticks are not just a problem for dogs. In fact, according to veterinary parasitologist Dr. Susan Little, “cats are very susceptible to tick infestations.” Cats aren’t just magically able to groom them away as some may believe. Even worse, ticks may be carriers of a multitude of diseases (some even deadly), which can be passed onto your cat.

Let’s take a look at how cats can get ticks as well as a few ways to stop them from biting your beloved kitty.

How Do Ticks Get on My Cat?

No yard is an island, and unfortunately, there is no way to keep every wild animal out of your yard. Even with a tall fence, squirrels, raccoons and other small rodents will find ways to get into your yard, carrying ticks (and fleas) along with them. The more visitors you have to your yard, the greater the chance of an infestation arriving on the back of another animal. Feral cats roaming your property can also be carriers of fleas and ticks. This is one reason not to encourage wild animals to come into your cat’s environment by leaving out offerings such as corn, nuts, and seeds.

You and your human visitors can be unwitting carriers of ticks, too. It’s easy for a few to hitch a ride on your pants leg, socks, shoes, etc. Additionally, other household pets (dogs, cats) that go outside can bring ticks inside and expose your other pets

Ticks are well-adapted at finding ways to attach to potential hosts in order to find their next blood meal.

How to Get Rid of Ticks on Cats

There are several different options to choose from when it comes to prescription and over-the-counter tick preventatives. Some preventatives will even offer protection against other parasites such as fleas. However, it’s important to read labels carefully as some medications are made specifically for dogs and should never be used on cats.

Here are a few types of tick preventatives you may want to consider. It’s best to consult your veterinarian, as he or she can help you determine which is best for your cat’s lifestyle.

1. Spot-On Treatments

These medications are very effective at keeping ticks at bay, often for up to a month. Spot-ons contain ingredients that are neurotoxins specific to adult parasites. Some products also contain ingredients to prevent larvae from developing. The oily liquid in which the medication is dissolved helps spread the product over the surface of the skin to the sebaceous glands.

2. Tick Collars

Flea and tick collars are neurotoxic to insects. Some work by emitting a gas that repels fleas and parasites in the neck region, while others emit ingredients that are absorbed and spread through the skin, similar to how spot-ons work.

When putting this type of collar on your cat, you will need to make sure there is just enough room to fit two fingers under the collar when it’s around the cat’s neck. Cut off any excess length of collar to prevent your cat from chewing on it, and watch for signs of discomfort (e.g., excessive scratching) in case an allergic reaction to the collar occurs.

3. Oral Medications

Oral medications are pills or chewables that treat and prevent parasite infestations. These medications are often absorbed and secreted into the sebaceous glands, dispersing ingredients which are neurotoxic to the parasite (fleas). Cat-specific oral tick preventatives are not as readily available as they are for dogs, so consult your veterinarian to learn what may be best for your cat.

Don’t Forget to Protect Your Home and Lawn

Keeping your lawn, bushes, and trees trimmed back will help reduce the population of fleas and ticks in your backyard. If there are fewer areas for these parasites to live and breed, there will be fewer of them to be concerned with. If you still have a problem, consider using one of the various household and yard sprays or granular treatments that are available from your veterinarian, pet store, or local garden center. Just be very careful when using these products, as they can be harmful to animals, fish, and humans. If you have a severe problem or you are concerned about the proper handling of these chemicals, you might want to consider hiring an exterminator to apply yard and area sprays to control the ticks.

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Jennifer Kvamme, DVM


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